Philippine cinema has never been one that is deeply related with literature. Except for adaptations of Jose Rizal's Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, Francisco Baltazar's Florante at Laura, and other revered texts of national importance, adaptations are mostly limited to popular comics and romance novels. Perhaps the reason why there is that gaping separation between cinema and literature in the country is because literature, except for the texts that are used for school and the comics and romance novels that are used for escapism, is unprofitable. Consequently, cinema based on literature is also unprofitable, catering only to the sophisticated and the learned elite and not to the general movie-going populace.
Ligo na Ü, Lapit na Me (Star-Crossed Love), based on Eros Atalia's bestselling short novel of the same title, attempts to close the gap between literature and cinema. Atalia's novel is by no means the type of literature that would incite deep thinking or debates. It is populist in both style and intention making it the perfect text for a film adaptation that would have a semblance of commercial appeal without being just purely escapist.
Ligo na Ü, Lapit na Me was obviously written to appeal to the younger generation, with Intoy (played charmingly in the film by Edgar Allan Guzman), an ordinary student who enters into a secret sexual relationship with Jenny (played in the film by Mercedes Cabral), a transferee from a private school who instantly becomes the school's resident bombshell, representing the typical Filipino youth who is has become more open to loose sexual attitudes without losing appreciation for the necessities of a fulfilling romance.
Jerry Gracio's screenplay is very faithful to Atalia's novel, appropriating even the mental monologues of the main character in the novel as voice-overs. Director Erick Salud is very faithful to Gracio's screenplay, keeping the voice-overs and the other playful excesses while managing to ably tell the story in the simplest way possible. In a sense, both Gracio and Salud become victims of undue reverence to a source material that would probably work film-wise with modifications in both storytelling and style.
It is all cute at first. Sex has never been a serious proposition for Filipinos. Sex has been quite the favorite punchline for skits and jokes. There is therefore a very wicked sense of accuracy as to how Intoy's sexual awakening is depicted with cartoonish humor and irreverence. Unfortunately, the film doesn't know how to grow up. It never graduates from being just an effective sitcom. In fact, aside from the flourishes that infrequently adorn certain scenes, the film is mostly visually drab and almost always aurally annoying, like a hurried locally-produced television show.
When Intoy and Jenny's relationship evolve from
being simply limited within the confines of their afternoon's motel room into
something that is supposedly painfully complicated, humor gets in the way of
communicating the turmoil. Their romance, the intricacies of their relationship,
and the eventual ache of their inevitable separation and the hopeful reunion are
drowned amidst all the needless noise and clutter, betraying the film's
attempts to convince its audience that there is something more to the seductive
sex talk, to the lousily staged sex scenes, to the humorous stabs at the
suddenly lopsided roles of young Filipino men and women when it comes to sex, to
the never-ending supply of colloquial wit, to the endless and tedious
monologues. There's really enough to love in Ligo na Ü, Lapit na Me. Unfortunately, there's also enough to dislike.